The Challenge of Self-Restraint in Recovery from Substance Abuse

Recovery Reflections: October 11, 2017

Hello there, my name is Leah and I would like to welcome you once more to Detox to Rehab’s Recovery Reflections. Please join us and listen to the experience, strength and hope shared by Brandon, Megan, Patrick and Joey.
We pre-record one of our reflections every week for you to watch. In these sessions, individuals in recovery express how the reading of the week relates to their own experiences and has helped them along their paths.

Alcoholics Anonymous

October 11, 2017: Self-Restraint in Recovery

Our first objective will be the development of self-restraint.

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p 91

My drive to work provides me with an opportunity for self-examination. One day while making this trip, I began to review my progress in sobriety, and was not happy with what I saw. I hoped that, as the work day progressed, I would forget these troublesome thoughts, but as one disappointment after another kept coming, my discontent only increased, and the pressures within me kept mounting. I retreated to an isolated table in the lounge, and asked myself how I could make the most of the rest of the day. In the past, when things went wrong, I instinctively wanted to fight back. But during the short time I had been trying to live the A.A. program I had learned to step back and take a look at myself. I recognized that, although I was not the person I wanted to be, I had learned to not react in my old ways. Those patterns of behavior only brought sorrow and hurt, to me and to others. I returned to my work station, determined to make the day a productive one, thanking God for the chance to make progress that day.

Improving Self-Restraint Takes Time

Megan said, “I feel so injured or so harmed in a moment that my alcoholic reaction is to defend myself. It kind of feels like lashing out; the restraint isn’t always there yet.”

Developing self-restraint is an ongoing process that takes a long time to master.

When a substance is used as a primary coping mechanism, healthier coping skills aren’t formed. Once a person stops using or gets sober, it is common for situations that create even mild emotional disturbance to still inspire a regretful reaction. You might use insensitive and hurtful words or do something that is a stronger display of disapproval than appropriate.

Reflection may be key in these situations, so that the reason for the inappropriate reaction can be addressed. Writing about what happened and how you are feeling can be helpful. It is important to remember, though, that self-restraint doesn’t come right away; it builds over time.

“I fall short all the time when it comes to self-restraint,” said Joey.

Learning Not to Deflect, but Reflect

Brandon reflects: “I have to ask myself, many many times, what character defect is this person or this thing arising out of me?”

In active addiction, fault is often deflected away from the self. When facing criticism or opposing views, the person who is criticizing or opposing is easily blamed and overreacting or acting out against them is justified. Reflecting on why a certain interaction or experience is upsetting and inspires an overreaction is crucial in recovery, as it can help create a better understanding of others’ emotions along with your own.

In some interactions, the other person is going to be in the wrong, but we can’t control how that person chooses to engage. The only thing we can control is how we chose to react. Our response is not anyone’s responsibility but our own.

The truth is that reacting poorly doesn’t serve anyone and it usually hurts everyone. When we take a step back and examine ourselves, we have the opportunity to grow and improve. Of course, it is hard to admit that we are not always justified in our actions, but no one is perfect.

In Recovery, there is Always a Back Up

Patrick explains, “If I do say something hurtful, I’m not going to go to that person and say I didn’t mean that, but I will go to that person and attempt to make an amends.”

Making amends means apologizing for any unsavory behavior and ensuring that you will do what you can to avoid repeating said bad behavior. Amends ensure that people who are hurt by your lack of self-restraint will be acknowledged, but they also ensure heightened self-awareness and movement towards growth. This is why making amends are an important part of the 12-step program, which is often an invaluable aftercare measure.

While making amends can be uncomfortable, this is a back-up plan for when self-restraint isn’t practiced. Mistakes will be made and that is okay, but it is important to be able to own those mistakes and try to learn from them, while actively avoiding making the same mistakes in the future.

This level of transparency with yourself and others, is a huge part of recovery. It is one of the main drivers of personal growth and accountability.

Acknowledging Improvements in Recovery

Joey said, “I know I’m not exactly where I want to be at, but I’m far from where I used to be.”

It is always important to acknowledge the strides that you have already made and how much better your self-restraint has become in recovery. Others in the recovery community can help you see this, a sponsor for instance can remind you of where you were in the very beginning.

There is no instant fix to self-restraint problems, just an ongoing process of recognizing negative behavior, developing self-awareness, investigating underlying reasons for behaviors and attempting to change negative behavior patterns.

Frustration is a sign of disappointment in your apparent lack of growth in that area, but it doesn’t reflect the reality of this ability. The reality is, you have probably come a long way on this front, which means you have immense ability to change and improve, but you can’t expect perfection from yourself.

Looking at personal progress can help instill hope in future progress, which is more productive than ruminating in frustration.

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